Sugarfree or Sugarless? When to add 'less' and when to add '-free' to form an adjective?
Is the chewing gum sugarless or sugarfree?
In your particular example, chewing gum, breakfast cereal, or food in general can often be described as 'sugarless' or 'sugarfree'. Whenever you form the adjective by adding the suffix -less or -free, you are describing something as not having or not affected by the thing mentioned. But we can only think of one other example (although there must be more) where they can be used quite interchangeably in this way, as in:
This piece of work was quite error-free. It was an errorless piece of work.
Normally, usage prescribes one OR the other. In the following examples, only one is possible.
There are many homeless people sleeping rough on the streets of London.
The whole journey was trouble-free and we arrived at our destination on time.
There were so many duty-free goods in the airport shop that we just don't know where to begin.
It was a completely meaningless exercise and they made no progress in their work.
When there is never any opportunity of being released, prisoners are powerless.
The operating theatre was completely germ-free environment.
Some of the runners tired very quickly, but others among them appeared quite tireless.
It is doubtless the case that this prisoner will be extradited.
Note that the suffix 'less' or '-free' is normally added to nouns to form the adjective. In the penultimate example, it is added to the verb 'tire' and in the final example, 'doubt' can be viewed as either noun or verb.
What about careless and carefree you might ask. These are both possible. Indeed they are, but note that they are not alternatives. They are quite different in meaning. A careless person is someone who does not take very much care over what he is doing, whereas a carefree person is someone who has no worries.
You will have noticed that the suffix -free is usually hyphenated and is a stressed syllable (unlike less). However, in two of the above examples, sugarfree and carefree, there is normally no hyphen.